NEW ORLEANS (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – Fewer than one-third of patients with diabetes being cared for by a public hospital system underwent screening for retinopathy within the past year, judging from the results from a survey of administrative data.

“Diabetic retinopathy is a major cause of vision loss in the United States,” researchers led by Dr. David C. Ziemer wrote in an abstract presented during a poster session at the annual scientific sessions of the American Diabetes Association.

“In 2011, the age-adjusted percentage of adults with diagnosed diabetes reporting visual impairment was 17.6%. This is a pressing issue as the number of Americans with diabetic retinopathy is expected to double from 7.7 million in 2010 to 15.6 million in 2050.”

In an effort to plan for better diabetic retinopathy screening, Dr. Ziemer and his associates analyzed 2014 administrative data from 19,361 patients with diabetes who attended one of several clinics operated by the Atlanta-based Grady Health System. Diabetic retinopathy was considered complete if ophthalmology clinic, optometry, or retinal photograph visit was attended. The researchers also surveyed a convenience sample of 80 patients about their diabetic retinopathy screening in the past year.

The mean age of patients was 57 years, their mean hemoglobin A1c level was 7.8%, 59% were female, and 83% were African-American. Of the 19,361 patients, 5,595 (29%) underwent diabetic retinopathy screening and 13,766 (71%) did not. The unscreened had a mean of 1 clinic visit for diabetes care, compared with a mean of 3.1 for those who underwent screening (P less than .0005). In the analysis of administrative data, Dr. Ziemer, of the division of endocrinology at Emory University, Atlanta, reported that 29% of patients underwent diabetic retinopathy screening in the past year, with variation by care site that ranged from 5% to 66%, and 5,000 had no diabetes continuity care visit.

Factors associated with increased diabetic retinopathy screening were treatment in a diabetes clinic (odds ratio, 2.8), treatment in a primary care clinic (OR, 2.1), and being older (OR, 1.03/year; P less than .001 for all associations), according to a multivariable analysis. Factors associated with decreased diabetic retinopathy screening were Hispanic ethnicity (OR, 0.7) and having a mental health diagnosis (OR, .8; P less than .001 for both associations). The researchers also found that having an in-clinic eye screening doubled the proportion of diabetic retinopathy screenings (48% vs. 22%) and decreased the number of screenings done in an outside clinic (45% vs. 95%).

Of the 80 patients who completed the survey, 68% reported that they underwent diabetic retinopathy screening within the past year, which was in contrast to the 29% reported by administrative data. In addition, 50% of survey respondents who did not undergo diabetic retinopathy screening reported that they received a referral, yet more than 40% failed to honor eye appointments. “The first barrier to address is people who don’t keep appointments,” Dr. Ziemer said in an interview. “Getting people in care is one issue. Having the capacity is another. That’s a real problem.”

The study was supported by the American Diabetes Association. Dr. Ziemer reported having no financial disclosures.